Answering The Gnostic Gospels

The Gospel of Thomas

Entertainment Value Who, What, When
Accursed Genealogy
Resurrection in the Flesh Destroy This House
James the Just Child of a Whore
Two Advents Punch-Line
Pseudo-Clementine Library Live Food
Dog in the Manger Infinite Loss
Lift the Stone The Vineyard
The Son of Man Burgess Shale
Be Passersby Trinitarian Formula
Excluded Middle Do It Yourself

Entertainment Value

One must suspect that many eager readers, drawn to the gnostic literary remains of antiquity by popular promoters like Elaine Pagels, are genuinely surprised to discover that much of this literature borders on the unreadable. The attention flags at these dreary, over-stuffed catalogs of botched gods. The gnostic gods are many, like the gods of the pagan Greeks; the gnostics have cast off from the shores of monotheism and reverted to the normal pagan theology of multiple occupancy of the heavenlies. But something is lacking: story-telling skills? Human interest? These gods are not brimming with personality like the Greek pagan gods, nor are the stories told about them half so entertaining. Still Ms. Pagels tries to pick them up and brush them off, having convinced herself that polytheism is more favorable to women's rights than monotheism. Has anyone told her about the rape epidemic in polytheist India?

Like the Gods of the Greeks and Romans, these entities also mate and produce offspring. But there are no love stories told about them, nor even pursuit and rape stories as with the Greek gods, unless you count the rape of Eve by the archons. They are stuck with peculiar names like 'church' (ecclesia), because their creators labored under the discipline of having to think up names for their gods which could be pointed to in scripture. Like a pet turtle, you have to feed and take care of them, but unlike a dog or cat, they have no personality. This theology lacks the credibility of monotheism, but also lacks the entertainment value of paganism; it is zero for two. Its merchandisers in the modern era cast about in all directions to make it palatable, repackaging it as something else, like depth psychology, or feminism, or unitarianism, because taken straight up, it does not sell itself. The unfortunate reader lured in by these promises and representations is surprised to discover how much material he must wade through to discover these nuggets, if indeed he ever discovers them at all.

A book like Ovid's Metamorphoses is a fun read; the reader, even if not sold on paganism, comes away glad to have made the acquaintance of such interesting characters, albeit unreal. The dogged reader of gnostic literature can report no comparable experience. What is gnosticism? It is paganism stripped bare of its entertainment value.

There is one noteworthy exception, a book well worth reading though with caution: the Gospel of Thomas. This book has the air of genuine antiquity. Many of today's evangelical readers want to date it late, because, "What I would stress about this gospel is that its 'character'— particularly its sayings, which are distinctive to this gospel— makes it quite different from the canonical gospels. This suggests that it was written after, and on the basis of, not only the canonical gospels but also several of Paul's letters and other New Testament documents." (Ben Witherington III, What Have They Done with Jesus? p. 28). Later, because "different"? It is different for sure. But not only will we have to date 'Thomas' late on these grounds, but also several of Paul's letters, which cannot have been written by Paul because they seem to discuss something that looks like gnosticism! Where will it end?

Let's try a different approach and take seriously, not dismissing as legendary, what the early church said about the origin of gnosticism. If there is heresy, there must needs be heretics, and we are told who they were: "Simon and Cerinthus, the false apostles, concerning whom it is written that no man shall cleave unto them for there is in them deceit wherewith they bring men to destruction." (Epistle of the Apostles, Chapter 1). Are these characters legendary? Who wrote the Gospel of Thomas, and why?


Who, What, When

Who wrote the Gospel of Thomas? One clue is that the book itself points to a successor. When a religion claims to be the legitimate heir of another religion of accepted authority, its devotees search the archives, looking for a promise of a successor. The Muslims find such a promise in Jesus' talk of the 'Comforter.' Christians understand 'the Comforter' to be the Holy Spirit, but Muslims say it's Mohammed. In the case of the Gospel of Thomas, the promise of a successor is explicit, not strained:

"Jesus said, 'When you see one who was not born of woman, fall on your faces and worship. That one is your Father.'" (Gospel of Thomas 15).

The promised one is not Jesus, born of a woman, both in the flesh of the incarnation, and also in heaven according to this peculiar theology: "...but my true mother gave me life" (Gospel of Thomas 101). Simon the Samaritan was a copy-cat of Jesus, who made a divine claim similar to that of Jesus, though he upped the ante: while Jesus claimed to be the Word incarnate, Simon claimed to be the unbegotten Father incarnate. "[Simon] represented himself, in a word, as being the loftiest of all powers, that is, the Being who is the Father over all, and he allowed himself to be called by whatsoever title men were pleased to address him." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 23.1). Simon in his turn attracted a copy-cat, Menander, who made the same claims as Simon did! Simon "...appear[ed] among men to be a man, while yet he was not a man." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 23.3) This coming one who "is your Father" must be Simon; who else in the history of the world ever made that claim? Since there is a 'coming attraction' pointing to a specific successor, this book might well originate either with Simon himself or in the circle of his followers.

Tradition reports that Simon's movement produced its own literature: "For we know that Simon and Cleobius, and their followers, have compiled poisonous books under the name of Christ and of His disciples, and do carry them about in order to deceive you who love Christ, and us His servants." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 3, Chapter XVI, p. 908). Do any of these works survive? The present work is an excellent candidate. Of course, if the Gospel of Thomas shows literary dependence upon Tatian's Diatessaron, as some say, then it is a work of the late second century. There are several reasons to think it really is early, however.

The testimony of antiquity about Simon is often discarded nowadays, in keeping with the modern theme of preferring to disbelieve all actual contemporary testimony and documentation. Ascribing the preliminary work on gnosticism to Simon is however a significant admission contrary to interest. The early church 'heresy-hunters' stressed that heresy was late, and orthodoxy early. This may have been true enough in their home-town: in Carthage, it may be, the arrival of the first gnostic teacher was recent enough to be remembered, but when the focus broadens to include Palestine and adjacent nations, the picture changes, and a man who knew the apostles comes to the fore. It may be objected, this 'admission' is contrary to interest but impossible. But the Marcionite prologues say, "Romans are in the parts of Italy. These were reached beforehand by false apostles, and under the name of our Lord Jesus Christ had been brought in to the law and the prophets." (Marcionite Prologue). Perhaps this only means a Judaizing temper inimical to the writer. Who brought the gospel to Rome is a thorny problem; maybe the correct answer is, you don't want to know. It's not out of the question that Simon's heresy became very successful there, poaching on the Christian church just as the Christians poached on the God-fearers attached to the synagogue. We have seen similar hijackings in the modern era, where Christian missionaries have spread the gospel in foreign lands, only to see the harvest they sowed reaped by the Mormons or some other heterodox group who have shouldered their way in.

In the mid-second century, Justin Martyr testifies about this sect, which still existed at that day, "And, thirdly, because after Christ's ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you, but even deemed worthy of honors. There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a God, and as a God was honored by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome:—'Simoni Deo Sancto.' 'To Simon the holy God.' And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first God. . ." (Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin, Chapter 26). That god-claims come in clusters is verified by modern experience; to get over the embarrassing fact that Jesus kicked up a flurry of copy-cat god-claimants, when they say He Himself made no such claim, they have to deny there was any such person as Simon, although he is mentioned not only in the New Testament but extensively throughout the early church writers. Justin would seem to have been mistaken about the inscription, because a similar inscription was excavated in the sixteenth century: "Now in this same island was found in the sixteenth century an inscription to the Sabine God Semo Sancus, i.e. Semoni Sanco Deo Fidio. It is of course quite possible that Justin saw this inscription, and being a Samaritan ignorant of Latin mythology mistook this for an inscription referring to Simon Magus." (George Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century, Lecture III, p. 52). Though it is quite likely there was such a statue, Justin may have misidentified it. A reader who has never studied the history of secular Bible scholarship could scarcely believe the way this field of inquiry was warped by the Unitarianism which took over the academy in the nineteenth century. Since it is a foundational religious conviction of these people that Jesus cannot, must not, have claimed to be God,— the central, defining conviction of their religion is that He is not,— history must fall in line behind religion, whatever well-attested facts must be denied to achieve this.

There is nothing inherently incredible about the outline of the early church's testimony to Simon's movement, which is widespread and fairly consistent:

"It was a serious mistake of the critics to regard Simon Magus as a fiction. . .The whole figure, as well as the doctrines attributed to Simon (see Acts of the Apostles, Justin, Irenĉus, Hippolytus), not only have nothing improbable in them, but suit very well the religious circumstances which we must assume for Samaria. . . He is really a counterpart to Jesus, whose activity can just as little have been unknown to him as that of Paul." (Adolf von Harnack. History of Dogma, Volume 1 (p. 307). Kindle Edition.)

Although some fanciful stories have coalesced around his figure, including flying contests reminiscent of the Toldoth Jeschu material, there is no reason to deny his historicity, nor his status as arch-heretic, nor his hostile encounter with the apostles as recorded is the book of Acts. The Gospel of Thomas may well be his master-piece.



Because Simon is denounced by name in the New Testament, Christian readers must beware of taking his word on anything:

"But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:  To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.  And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

"Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)  Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me. And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans." (Acts 8:10-24).

Simon's rejoinder to Peter's curse is almost Christ-like! Simon's movement, like the Gospel of Thomas, is not inherently hostile to Jesus Christ; after all imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It is however hostile to those apostles whose gospel ministry came to define orthodoxy. The Gospel of Thomas, if it represents any form of Christianity at all, represents a non or anti-apostolic form of the religion.



One claim as to the background of Simon's activity is that Simon's theology is based on the work of Dositheus, who produced a Bishop Spong-like reductive reading of the Old Testament scriptures. He was correctly understood in ancient times as a sectarian; in modern days, people like that sometimes masquerade as 'scholars.' What they do is carve a little here, add a bit of putty there, and reconstruct a 'Jesus' more to their liking than the traditional one. They ought rather to be described as cult leaders who have not succeeded in attracting a following, than as 'scholars.'

Widening the focus, the origins of Samaritan religious syncretism go back deep into the past. Ahab's wife, the wicked Jezebel, introduced foreign customs. After the deportation of the northern tribes, some inhabitants found it possible to combine the worship of Jehovah along with a plethora of strange gods:

"So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day. And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them.  Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land. Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land.  Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD. Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. And the men of Babylon made Succothbenoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. So they feared the LORD, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the LORD, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence." (2 Kings 17:12-33)

Truth to tell, the 'other' Israel is not a day younger than the Israel of God who worship Jehovah. When Moses came down the mount carrying the ten commandments, he met the children of Israel worshipping a golden calf. While the true and living God has always kept a remnant for Himself, the wicked king Manasseh is probably more typical of the land than the good king Josiah. The guiding program of gnosticism is to combine paganism with Christianity. They find the redeemer figure, Jesus, appealing, and so they find room for him in their already well-populated pantheon. Since people had already long been combining the Israelite religion with paganism, it is difficult to identify a precise start time for this devolution of faith to begin. To what extent it had conserved its own tradition is again unknown. For all his creativity, Simon was following an already well-defined tradition which had existed long before his day.

In the New Testament era, some of the Samaritans were evidently conservative monotheists who differed from the Jews only in their opinion as to the proper place of worship of the one God. Others may have conserved their 'other' tradition, of polytheism, that matrix of gnosticism, having never forgotten the five gods Josephus ascribes to them: "But now the Cutheans, who removed into Samaria, (for that is the name they have been called by to this time, because they were brought out of the country called Cuthah, which is a country of Persia, and there is a river of the same name in it,) each of them, according to their nations, which were in number five, brought their own gods into Samaria, and by worshipping them, as was the custom of their own countries, they provoked Almighty God to be angry and displeased at them, for a plague seized upon them, by which they were destroyed; and when they found no cure for their miseries, they learned by the oracle that they ought to worship Almighty God, as the method for their deliverance." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book IX, Chapter 14, Section 3, p. 629). Greco-Roman paganism, in the ascendency in a world politically dominated by pagans, may have been another fertile source of material and inspiration, for a man who claimed his prostitute travelling companion was the reincarnation of Helen of Troy.


Resurrection in the Flesh

Simon evidently did not believe in the resurrection of the flesh, and therefore shows no interest in the cross or resurrection of Jesus: "And he [Simon] neither says that the God who created the world is the Supreme, nor does he believe that the dead will be raised." (Clementine Homilies, Homily 2, Chapter 22). He did believe in the immortality of the soul...of the knowers, not the ignorant, who face annihilation. He and Menander promised that their followers would never die: "He [Menander] persuaded those who adhered to him that they should never die, and even now there are some living who hold this opinion of his." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 26). Simon subtracts part of the New Testament picture of the life to come, while retaining part:

Perhaps some of the popularity of gnostic material in the present day is owing to the fact that the 'liberals' have also discarded the idea of the resurrection in the flesh: "The Evangelist [John] knows nothing of those crude materialistic notions of 'the general resurrection' which, like an outworn garment, religious humanity is now casting aside." (The Mission and Message of Jesus, H. D. A. Major, T. W. Manson, C. J. Wright, p. 844.) (This is a 'liberal' commentary written in 1938. It is astonishing the way people can convince themselves that leavings from Madame Blavatsky's 'theosophy' are more rational than Christianity.)

Some of 'Thomas' references to corpses being eaten may be left-over bits and pieces of a polemic against the resurrection in the flesh. The Samaritans, including Simon, disbelieved this Christian doctrine. Pagan critics of Christianity found it problematic that a man's corpse might be eaten by a predator: "For many have often perished in the sea, and their bodies have been consumed by fishes, while many have been eaten by wild beasts and birds. How then is it possible for their bodies to rise up?" (Porphyry, Against the Christians).

"Now Greeks and Samaritans together argue against us thus. The dead man has fallen, and moldered away, and is all turned into worms; and the worms have died also; such is the decay and destruction which has overtaken the body; how then is it to be raised? The shipwrecked have been devoured by fishes, which are themselves devoured...Vultures and ravens feed on the flesh of the unburied dead, and then fly away over all the world; whence then is the body to be collected? For of the fowls who have devoured it some may chance to die in India, some in Persia, some in the land of the Goths. Other men again are consumed by fire, and their very ashes scattered by rain or wind; whence is the body to be brought together again?" (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 18.2)

That their flesh had been incorporated into another living thing was considered proof against resurrection. Perhaps there is a memory of such a dispute in the saying, "Jesus said, 'Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.'" (Gospel of Thomas, 7). Other sayings, like 60, seem to bring us back to concerns about the robbers (hostile celestial beings) eating people unless they are disguised by magic spells during their ascent past the archons to the upper spheres.


Destroy This House

A hint at a date may come in Saying 71: "Jesus said, 'I shall destroy this house, and no one will be able to build it. . .'". This saying, in its more familiar form, is understood by Christians as a reference to Jesus' resurrection (John 2:19-21), though it was taken by hostile witnesses in reference to the temple at Jerusalem. Since Simon rejected bodily resurrection, the latter is left standing as the more plausible interpretation available to him. Simon's home constituency was hostile to the Jerusalem temple on principle. After the catastrophe of 70 A.D. when the pagan Romans burned the temple, could his school have 'corrected' the Lord's prophecy to this form? Does this saying give us a clue as to whether the work was written before or after 70 A.D.? There was nothing about the temple's destruction at this date which would convince an observer, even up to the time of Julian the Apostate, that it could not in principle be rebuilt, although politically impossible at the time. Perhaps the saying is just meant as ammunition against a physical resurrection. Simon is generally committed to realized eschatology: "He said to them, 'What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it.'" (Gospel of Thomas, 51).

It appears this work was published at some time after Matthew and Mark had produced their gospels, but before Luke and John had done so. The two former works are referenced, not the two latter. Richard Bauckham astutely points out Matthew's purported identification of Jesus as a 'philosopher' implies the author's knowledge of Matthew's gospel: "But why Matthew? Matthew would be one of the most obscure of the Twelve had not a Gospel been attributed to him. The saying in the Gospel of Thomas must presuppose the existence of Matthew's Gospel and its attribution to Matthew." (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 236).

"Jesus said to his disciples, 'Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.'
"Simon Peter said to him, 'You are like a just angel.'
"Matthew said to him, 'You are like a wise philosopher.'" (Saying 13, Gospel fo Thomas, p. 307, The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller, Editor)

It can be inferred that Matthew thought Jesus a wise philosopher, not that he ever describes Him that way in so many words, but because his gospel is filled with ethical instruction. Someone might encounter this gospel and reasonably infer that Matthew found Jesus' ethical instruction a chief point. There is no real reason to date Matthew's gospel any later than the 40's.

Why would Peter be thought to believe Jesus was like a just angel? The gospel of Mark, described as Peter's gospel by Papias and others, begins with a quotation from Malachi:

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,' says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1).

The second 'messenger,' i.e. angel, malak, is the Lord Himself, and is Jesus Christ. Of course an uncreated angel, God Himself, is here meant, but arguably Peter is saying, if he used this dominical saying in his preaching, that Jesus is the "Messenger of the covenant."

While an argument from silence is in general a poor argument, it does seem telling that no mention is made of John, another among the twelve who wrote or authorized a gospel. This would place the Gospel of Thomas at mid-first century. Many literary works, like human beings, have a history, a story of revision and re-thinking. One can even find literary productions, such as a law code, which are true communal creations, developing by accretion over the ages. No one, of course, has ever seen a literary work produced by the 'Spirit of the Age' or das Volk using the author as channel because non-existent entities cannot produce real results. If, as here speculated, the Gospel of Thomas came out of Simon the Samaritan's movement, it would be unlikely to have been much worked on in subsequent centuries, when the movement itself was barely clinging to life. Later writers, even while mentioning that the Simonians are still around, express amazement at this fact, just as Josephus marvels that Jesus still had adherents to his own day. To judge by empirical evidence, new religious movements are more likely to produce literature in their salad days, while the charismatic founders are still living, rather than once the movement has entered into decline, the fate of 99.9% of all such movements. The Christian Science book catalog is heavy with entries from Mary Baker Eddy because the movement soon reached its zenith, as did Simon's. Christianity, thankfully, recovered from its swoon, but Simon's movement never did, although its researches, like this work, would become founding constituents of the gnostic heritage.


James the Just

Our author's loyalties do not lie with Peter and Paul. Matthew's gospel affixes a 'Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval' to the ministry of Peter, from Jesus' lips: "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18). This passage is mostly familiar from its whimsical application to the Bishop of Rome, but the original intent of including this dominical saying in the Christian gospels must have been to validate Peter's version of Christianity. 'Thomas' also includes a Quality Stamp, but with a different address:

  • "The disciples said to Jesus, 'We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?'
  • "Jesus said to them, 'No matter where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.'"
  • (Gospel of Thomas, 12).

This is consistent with authorship by Simon or someone in Simon's circle, amongst whom Peter cannot have been popular, because he had denounced Simon to his face: "But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God." (Acts 8:20-21). After this encounter with the apostles, which started well but ended badly, could it have been simple spite which led him to magnify James the Lord's brother instead? While it is certainly possible that Bishop James ran the Jerusalem Church as a 'big tent' operation with many viewpoints allowed, the proto-gnostic outlook of this project makes it doubtful James could have appreciated a shout-out from this direction.

The Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions concurs with the Gospel of Thomas that James set up shop as an arbiter of orthodoxy:

"Wherefore observe the greatest caution, that you believe no teacher, unless he bring from Jerusalem the testimonial of James the Lord’s brother, or of whosoever may come after him. For no one, unless he has gone up thither, and there has been approved as a fit and faithful teacher for preaching the word of Christ, — unless, I say, he brings a testimonial thence, is by any means to be received." (Clementine Recognitions, Book Four, Chapter 35).

Given that it's a universal characteristic of human life that there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians, James may well have arrogated this role to himself, as do many in the present day. Those invoking his name may or may not have actually met with his approval.


  • "There is the (infamous) Simon of Samaria in the Acts of the Apostles, who chaffered for the Holy Ghost: after his condemnation by Him, and a vain remorse that he and his money must perish together, he applied his energies to the destruction of the truth, as if to console himself with revenge. Besides the support with which his own magic arts furnished him, he had recourse to imposture, and purchased a Tyrian woman of the name of Helen out of a brothel, with the same money which he had offered for the Holy Spirit, — a traffic worthy of the wretched man. He actually feigned himself to be the Supreme Father, and further pretended that the woman was his own primary conception, wherewith he had purposed the creation of the angels and the archangels; that after she was possessed of this purpose she sprang forth from the Father and descended to the lower spaces, and there anticipating the Father’s design had produced the angelic powers, which knew nothing of the Father, the Creator of this world; that she was detained a prisoner by these from a (rebellious) motive very like her own, lest after her departure from them they should appear to be the offspring of another being; and that, after being on this account exposed to every insult, to prevent her leaving them anywhere after her dishonor, she was degraded even to the form of man, to be confined, as it were, in the bonds of the flesh. Having during many ages wallowed about in one female shape and another, she became the notorious Helen who was so ruinous to Priam, and afterwards to the eyes of Stesichorus, whom she blinded in revenge for his lampoons, and then restored to sight to reward him for his eulogies. After wandering about in this way from body to body, she, in her final disgrace, turned out a viler Helen still as a professional prostitute."
  • (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 34, pp. 389-390 ECF).

Child of a Whore

There is a deformation in the story of the lost sheep in the Gospel of Thomas: the lost one is "the largest" (Saying 107), and better loved. In the customary understanding of this parable, there is nothing nothing noteworthy about the lost sheep, it is as though just any one of 100 had gone astray. In the later Valentinian system, whose preceptors were at pains to find, any where they could, their bulging cast of characters in scripture, this lost sheep is, not just anyone, but fallen Wisdom: "Moreover, that Achamoth wandered beyond the Pleroma, and received form from Christ, and was sought after by the Savior, they declare that He indicated when He said, that He had come after that sheep which was gone astray. For they explain the wandering sheep to mean their mother. . ." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 8, Section 4, p. 647, ECF_0_01).

In Simon's system, this lost sheep, errant Sophia, was no abstraction but a very real flesh and blood woman who could be brought up on stage: "He said, however, that this (Helen) was the lost sheep." (Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, Book 6, Chapter 14). Simon travelled in the company of this woman, whom he had redeemed from prostitution: "This wench, therefore, was the lost sheep, upon whom the Supreme Father, even Simon, descended, who, after he had recovered her and brought her back — whether on his shoulders or loins I cannot tell — cast an eye on the salvation of man..." (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 34). It is on account of this party, who is both a prostitute and also Sophia, heavenly wisdom, that it is said:

"Jesus said, 'Whoever knows the father and the mother will be called the child of a whore.'" (Gospel of Thomas 105).

Lost Sheep

Jesus is her child in this system, as are we all. Those partial to this tendency liked the verse, "But wisdom is justified of her children." (Matthew 11:19): "Her name, too, was indicated by the Savior, when He said, 'Yet wisdom is justified by her children.'" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 8, Section 4, p. 648, ECF_0_01). Whether there is any reference here to the personal slurs later recorded in the Talmud against Jesus' legitimacy is unclear. She is the mother of us all:

"Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all sorts of heresies derive their origin, formed his sect out of the following materials: — Having redeemed from slavery at Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, a certain woman named Helena, he was in the habit of carrying her about with him, declaring that this woman was the first conception of his mind, the mother of all, by whom, in the beginning, he conceived in his mind [the thought] of forming angels and archangels." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 23, Section 2, p. 689, ECF_0_01).

The people who like this kind of material are partial to world-generating goddesses, like Isis. One cannot now ascertain whether this woman, who was imagined to be the reincarnation of Helen of Troy, was a 'Yoko Ono'-type with her own agenda, or a lost lamb bewildered by the whole deity experience. She retains her place in gnostic literature:

"For those who were in the world had been prepared by the will of our sister Sophia - she who is a whore - because of the innocence which has not been uttered. And she did not ask anything from the All, nor from the greatness of the Assembly, nor from the Pleroma." (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth).

This woman went by the name of 'The Moon,'— was Simon, her consort, the sun? The reader of Roman history will recall that the emperor Elagabalus presided over a wedding of the two chief luminaries: "Claiming that he was arranging a marriage of the sun and the moon, Elagabalus sent for the statue and all the gold in the temple and ordered the Carthaginians to provide, in addition, a huge sum of money for the goddess' dowry. When the statue arrived, he set it up with his god and ordered all men in Rome and throughout Italy to celebrate with lavish feasts and festivals, publicly and privately, in honor of the marriage of the deities."  (Herodian. History of the Roman Empire (Kindle Locations 2694-2698). Book Five, Chapter VI, Section 5.)  We do not know how it worked out, given their very different schedules. One is reminded that Cleopatra gave birth, and what a labor it must have been,— astronomical, even,— to twins, the Sun and the Moon:

"As Cleopatra considered the many layers of symbolism associated with her two special children, she knew their names would be of paramount importance. So she named them after Alexander and his sister Cleopatra. The additional epithets Helios and Selene, Sun and Moon, the heavenly bodies whom the Greeks regarded as twins, also supported Cleopatra's identification with the Divine Mother Isis who was said to have given birth to the sun." (Cleopatra the Great, by Joann Fletcher, p. 257).

Simon's astronomical connection is not made clear in this work, though Jesus, of whom he is an alter or anti-ego, is reported as hot: "Whoever is near me is near the fire" (82), and bright: "I am the light that is over all things" (77), which latter however is close to a veritable saying. The pagan Alexander of Abonoteichus was another mountebank who claimed sexual congress with the moon:

"He had long before given out a story to the effect that his daughter was by Selene; for Selene had fallen in love with him on seeing him asleep once upon a time—it is a habit of hers, you know, to adore handsome lads in their sleep! Without any hesitation that prince of sages Rutilianus sent for the girl at once, celebrated his nuptials as a sexagenarian bridegroom, and took her to wife, propitiating his mother-in-law, the moon, with whole hecatombs and imagining that he himself had become one of the Celestials!" (Lucian of Samosata, Alexander the False Prophet, Chapter 35).

Presumably the Moon denies everything, you know how she is. I'll bet if you inquire about her sexual history, she will pretend she does not hear you.


Two Advents

In anticipation of the objection that two advents of God, the life-spans actually overlapping, seem like overkill, Simon's school explains that the first (Jesus) was for practice:

"Jesus said, 'The Father's imperial rule is like a person who wanted to kill someone powerful. While still at home he drew his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand would go in. Then he killed the powerful one.'" (Gospel of Thomas 98).

Simon would have had the opportunity to hear sayings of the Lord from Philip. The Jesus Seminar was willing to deform their entire understanding of Jesus' life and ministry to conform to this text, but there is no reason to think it stands in any evolutionary path leading up to the gospels. The church would not have gone to a hostile, rival sect to get her own sayings back. 'Thomas' has a rival 'church' in his gun-sights, "Jesus said, 'A grapevine has been planted apart from the Father. Since it is not strong, it will be pulled up by its root and will perish.'" (Gospel of Thomas, Chapter 40). Who could he have in mind? The Book of Acts reports contentions within the early church, but 'Thomas,' who has less respect for practices like fasting and prayer than the apostles, cannot be a Judaizer. The rival plantation he scorns can be nothing other than the church of the apostles.

The gnostics of later date do owe a debt to Simon. Though few of them credited his claim to be God, he started the ball rolling on this tendency. His openness to pagan mythology is shown by his interest in Helen of Troy, who was not just a mortal woman, but the sister of Castor and Pollux. He contributes the idea of Lady Wisdom's downward spiral, which in his system even becomes a fall from heaven.

Just as Jesus began by associating with John the Baptist's ministry before striking out on His own, Simon associated with the Christians before starting his own religion. Room for improvement is left in this version of Jesus' saying: "I was given some of the things of my father," (Gospel of Thomas 61), as opposed to the New Testament: "All things are delivered unto me of my Father..." (Matthew 11:27). Room must be left for Simon's superior revelation, so Jesus is allotted only "some" things instead of "all."

Simon's followers did not in any way discount Jesus' claims, rather they added their own master's claims to the mix. The copy-cat enterprise proved, for a while, almost as successful as the original. Justin Martyr reports that Simon's religion was still around in the mid-first century. Simon seems to have expected Christianity to be pulled up by its root and his own planting to endure:

"Jesus said, 'A grapevine has been planted apart from the Father. Since it is not strong, it will be pulled up by its root and will perish.'" (Gospel of Thomas 40).

It happened the other way around; Jesus' followers, whose plantation was "apart from the Father" (they did not acknowledge Simon as the Father), endured and still endures, in spite of all efforts by the modern-day 'Jesus' industry to reverse the verdict. During the early years of the proclamation of the gospel, Christianity had to endure the indignity of this preposterous road show tagging along afterwards: a man claiming to be God the Father dragging around a prostitute whom he claimed to be his first thought. Fortunately the church lived it down. The pagan polemicist Celsus tried to throw Helena back in the Christians' faces, like she was our problem: "He next pours down upon us a heap of names, saying that he knows of the existence of certain Simonians who worship Helene, or Helenus, as their teacher, and are called Helenians." (Origen, Contra Celsus, Book 5, Chapter 62). Origen, however, doubts if there are thirty followers of Simon left in the world in which he wrote, in the third century A.D.: "There was also Simon the Samaritan magician, who wished to draw away certain by his magical arts. And on that occasion he was successful; but nowadays it is impossible to find, I suppose, thirty of his followers in the entire world, and probably I have even overstated the number." (Origen, Contra Celsus, Book 1, Chapter 57).


In 'Thomas' version, the Lord's sayings seem maimed, like a joke that has lost its punch-line. It is with a bit of a shock that one realizes they originally appeared in this format; Jesus told these stories without their punch-line:

"All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." (Matthew 13:34-35).

In and of itself, this 'maimed' format attests to the antiquity of this compilation, because that format is closer to the original than is the 'explained' format of the canonical gospels. Could this work have started life as a 'boot-legged' parable collection? Reputedly Simon adopted a 'fee-for-service' model for his 'church,' similar to that employed by the modern-day Church of Scientology, by contrast with the 'give away freely' model employed by the mainstream church. Perhaps it was upon payment of the fee that the punch-line was revealed. Given the general disdain for the apostles revealed in this work, Simon's interpretation lavished on these parables may have left the normal, apostolic interpretation grovelling in the sub-lunary dust.

It need hardly be argued that there is no evolutionary process by which a joke begins to be told, at first lacking any occasion for laughter, until long afterwards, the punch-line finally 'evolves.' Why would it be told the second time, lacking the pay-off of a laugh? No, the punch-line comes first and the joke is built around it. The moral comes first, the parable afterward. People do not repeat stories whose point they do not know, in the hopes that over the course of decades, a point will gradually evolve, or what is their motivation in repeating the story? Stories always have resolutions, no story has ever yet been told which is still grimly seeking its point, up until modernity at any rate. However they are missing here; perhaps you had to pay the lady.

To see what a difference the explanation makes, compare 'Thomas's' parable of the sower with the apostolic version:

"Jesus said, Look, the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered (them). Some fell on the road, and the birds came and gathered them. Others fell on rock, and they didn't take root in the soil and didn't produce heads of grain. Others fell on thorns, and they choked the seeds and worms ate them. And others fell on good soil, and it produced a good crop: it yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure." (Gospel of Thomas 9, The Complete Gospels, edited by Robert J. Miller, pp. 306-307).


"Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away." (Matthew 13:18-21).

How helpful is just that little injection of context pointing the hearer toward the application! To realize that the sower is sowing "the word" makes all plain and simple. Though the Lord's stated reason for this teaching method was precisely so that His hearers would not understand, paradoxically it is a sound didactic tactic in that it draws the hearer in, making him complicit in the search for meaning. However the risk of failure is high, even for the invested and involved reader, and the apostolic guidance is very helpful and gratefully received. So why is it here lacking?

One possibility: 'Mystery' religions were popular in the ancient world. The 'mysteries' referenced often were not deep, cosmic truths, but trivial and inconsequential facts; for example initiates to the Mysteries of Demeter learned the contents of a little goody-bag, or chest, containing an assortment of small items ostensibly of symbolic significance. While 'mystery religions' would have held no interest for monotheistic Jews, perhaps someone, say a Samaritan, open to syncretism might see the financial promise of the progressive, step-by-step approach. The first century religious consumer may have expected, as a matter of right, that initiates to a new religion should be privy to information not publically available. If Simon made the 'punch-line' available to paying customers upon initiation, that would have filled a familiar niche in the religious market-place.

The interpretations of the parables were known, because the Lord had told the apostles, but they were not known to all. The approach taken in 'Thomas,' while philo-Christian, is anti-apostolic. Our familiar four gospels include the punch-lines, because the 'mystery' approach was not generally taken by the greater church, except for a few odd practices, like the suggestion sometimes heard in the early literature that unbaptized persons leave the church prior to communion. However it stands to reason that Simon's maimed version, lacking the punch-line, cannot have competed against the complete versions. Is it conceivable that this book project predated our gospels at its initiation, because the religious entrepreneur who proposed to offer a maimed version of something freely available in complete form would be an optimist indeed? You cannot market a 'mystery' once the secret is out. In fact Simon's religion did not out-compete Christianity. Vigorous apostolic opposition would seem to have been a factor in driving it out of business, Simon's death another (like Father Divine, he was not supposed to die).


Pseudo-Clementine Literature

Orthodox Christians have historically disliked pseudepigraphic literature. If the first thing the author tells you,— his name,— is a lie, then how much of the rest of what he says can you believe? So the library of works claiming authorship by 'Clement' are not much read. Whether this rejection is fair or not depends on the author's intent and presentation of the material; when an author like Robert Graves writes an 'I, Claudius' in the present day, no one impugns his character. The Recognitions is a Hellenistic novel in form; whether it was received as such by its original audience, or mistaken for history, is open to question. Certainly there are people in the present day who mistake these works, rather this library, for history.

The original author of the Pseudo-Clementine library wants to align himself with orthodoxy against gnosticism. As an apologist, he makes a few good points, the same points everyone else makes: that the gnostics are ungrateful to their creator, children rebelling against their Father, that they disobey the primal Bible command of monotheism, etc. He is so maladroit, however, that he feels he must deny the basic principle of Biblical faith, that the Bible is wholly true:

"Then Peter said: 'If, therefore, some of the Scriptures are true and some false, with good reason said our Master, ‘Be ye good money-changers,’ inasmuch as in the Scriptures there are some true sayings and some spurious.'" (Clementine Homilies, Homily 2, Chapter 51).

Evidently the author felt the Bible interpretations attached to the gnostic apologetic were so powerful that the underlying Bible texts could not be disentangled from these bad interpretations. A later editor tried to tidy this material up, producing the Clementine Recognitions. Who is he really? Evidently someone who felt his readership would respect the 'Clement' name, a Roman perhaps? Can his information be trusted? Why not, in those cases when it confirms what is already known? However when corroboration is lacking, caution is in order.

Since the Enlightenment, it has been common in some circles to discount the information received from this entire branch of literature, based on a 'conspiracy'-style accusation: realizing that only their works would survive and not those of their antagonists, the early Christian apologists routinely misrepresented the views of their opponents, in order to 'doctor' the historical record and mislead distant posterity. Joseph Priestley's history of the church, for example, uses this approach, with the inevitable result that the early church becomes the land of make-believe, where the observer can substitute any fantasy he likes for the discarded testimony. But this is a glaring anachronism: these early authors cannot possibly have known only their works would survive, nor had they any reason to look to the views of far distant readers rather than the people around them. Authors involved in controversy are not generally looking to distant posterity, especially those authors who expect a soon end to the world. At the time they wrote, the views of their antagonists were easily accessible. What is gained by misrepresentation when the controverted work is available for confirmation? Often people mistake the normal nuts and bolts of argumentation for deliberate misrepresentation. A disputer who advances a thesis is bound to defend, not only the thesis itself, but all consequences which flow therefrom under accepted laws of logic. These are the rules; it's not unfair! This is how we reason; Euclid's 'Elements' would grind to a halt if the inquirer were not at liberty to ask, 'what consequences follow from this proposition?' Often nowadays logic gets you nowhere: 'You say 'a' is true, but 'b' follows from 'a' as night follows day; how will you possibly defend 'b'?' 'You are lying. I do not say 'b'. Stop lying about my beliefs.'

When authors like Tertullian, or even the inept 'Clement,' keep talking about 'b,' it is not because they wish to lie but because they wish to reason. The other party is obliged to make a plausible showing that 'b' does not follow from 'a;' if he omits to do so, they are at liberty to keep on talking about 'b.' An example of a 'b' is 'Patripassianism.' Noetus and the other thinkers who got this tendency rolling likely did not start with the assertion, 'The Father died upon the cross,' but when their adversaries pointed out to them that this conclusion followed from their claim that 'Jesus is the Father,' they concurred: so 'Patripassianism' it is. There is nothing unfair about this, because the consequence does follow from the thesis defended. While the Clementine Homilies/Recognitions is a work of imaginative fiction, incorporating a pot-boiler plot of the kind popular in antiquity whose storm-tossed characters get kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery, then reunited at long last, even this contrived plot serves an apologetic purpose.

Back in the hey-day of German 'higher criticism,' when made-up dates and circumstances of authorship were tossed around with wild abandon, this work got tagged with the inventive theory that it was actually written by a 'Jewish Christian' against Paul, under the cut-out of 'Simon Magus.' The author is no more a 'Jewish Christian' than am I. His theory as to why Peter withdrew from eating with Gentiles, as reported in Paul's letter to the Galatians, "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision." (Galatians 2:11-12). . .is not even in the ball-park. He claims it is because they were not yet baptized:

“But Peter, most benignantly regarding me, lest haply that separation might cause me sorrow, says to me: 'It is not from pride, O Clement, that I do not eat with those who have not yet been purified; but I fear lest perhaps I should injure myself, and do no good to them. For this I would have you know for certain, that every one who has at any time worshipped idols, and has adored those whom the pagans call gods, or has eaten of the things sacrificed to them, is not without an unclean spirit; for he has become a guest of demons, and has been partaker with that demon of which he has formed the image in his mind, either through fear or love. And by these means he is not free from an unclean spirit, and therefore needs the purification of baptism, that the unclean spirit may go out of him, which has made its abode in the inmost affections of his soul, and what is worse, gives no indication that it lurks within, for fear it should be exposed and expelled. . .Let no one of you therefore be saddened at being separated from eating with us, for every one ought to observe that it is for just so long a time as he pleases. For he who wishes soon to be baptized is separated but for a little time, but he for a longer who wishes to be baptized later. Every one therefore has it in his own power to demand a shorter or a longer time for his repentance; and therefore it lies with you, when you wish it, to come to our table; and not with us, who are not permitted to take food with any one who has not been baptized. It is rather you, therefore, who hinder us from eating with you, if you interpose delays in the way of your purification, and defer your baptism.' Having said thus, and having blessed, he took food.” (Clementine Recognitions, Book 2, Chapters 71-72).

It isn't the people so much as their food that's the problem, so baptism cannot be the solution. This author is not himself an 'Ebionite,' though he may wish to appear to be such. He is a baptismal regenerationist who considers getting baptized as the be-all and end-all of the Christian religion, an attitude consistent with second or third century Rome.

Or to put it more precisely, the people were a problem and their food was a problem too. The people: "It was said of R. Ishmael, the son of Qim'hith: It once happened on the Day of Atonement he spoke in a public place with an Arab, whose saliva was sprinkled on the high-priest's clothes. He became unclean (as the Arab might be so). . .Another day it happened that he spoke with a Gentile noblemen, and the same happened." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VI, Section Moed, Tractate Yoma, Chapter V, Kindle location 23800). And then there's the food. Our author wishes to imagine that Christian baptism is the solution to this problem,

"But this also we observe, not to have a common table with Gentiles, unless when they believe, and on the reception of the truth are baptized, and consecrated by a certain threefold invocation of the blessed name; and then we eat with them. Otherwise, even if it were a father or a mother, or wife:, or sons, or brothers, we cannot have a common table with them." (Clementine Recognitions, Book 7, Chapter 29).

This not-even-in-the-ballpark conjecture shows our author was not in contact with any of the parties to the dispute. Some entries in this library of literature do wish to leave the impression that Peter was zealous for the Mosaic law, perhaps intended as a note of verisimilitude:

“For some from among the Gentiles have rejected my legal preaching, attaching themselves to certain lawless and trifling preaching of the man who is my enemy. And these things some have attempted while I am still alive, to transform my words by certain various interpretations, in order to the dissolution of the law; as though I also myself were of such a mind, but did not freely proclaim it, which God forbid! For such a thing were to act in opposition to the law of God which was spoken by Moses, and was born witness to by our Lord in respect of its eternal continuance; for thus he spoke: “The heavens and the earth shall pass away, but one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law.” (Epistle of Peter to James, Chapter 2).

The Council at Jerusalem resolved that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obliged to keep the Mosaic law, though it left no guidance as to the status of those who voluntarily wished to do so. Nor did it establish guidelines whether those who were born Jews remained under the yoke of the law, as some held, "Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law. . ." (Acts 21:20), or free of it as Paul and occasionally Peter thought. Under legal guidelines as broadly understood in the first century, "zealous of the law" would have required separate tables. Clarifying these matters would have kept the Spanish Inquisition of many centuries later from going so far astray. As Acts makes clear, there were real differences of opinion of these points, never reconciled, though the Christian remedy is freedom of conscience: "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks." (Romans 14:5-6).

Who wrote the pseudo-Clementine literature, when and where, is unclear. In broad strokes, it was after the destruction of Jerusalem:

"Accordingly, therefore, prophesying concerning the temple, He said: 'See ye these buildings? Verily I say to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another which shall not be taken away; and this generation shall not pass until the destruction begin. For they shall come, and shall sit here, and shall besiege it, and shall slay your children here.' And in like manner He spoke in plain words the things that were straightway to happen, which we can now see with our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be among those to whom the word was spoken." (Clementine Homilies, Homily 3, Chapter 15).

This may be a false trail of dropped bread-crumbs, intended to convince the reader this event had just happened.  'Clement' has forgotten that 'Peter,' the speaker, would not have lived to see the downfall of Jerusalem. Indeed the date of the action of the Recognitions is given as, "For, behold, scarcely seven years have yet passed since the advent of the righteous and true Prophet. . . ." (Clementine Recognitions, Book 9, Chapter 29), not very likely. Since Clement's prestige would be greatest in Rome, Rome is a plausible place for this literature to come into shape. 'Clement' complains that the pagan gods are not good role models, and that youngsters in the country-side are at an advantage because they do not learn these unedifying stories, not being taught by Greeks:

"For lessons about their gods are much worse than ignorance, as we have shown from the case of those dwelling in the country, who sin less through their not having been instructed by Greeks. Truly, such fables of theirs, and spectacles, and books, ought to be shunned, and if it were possible, even their cities." (Clementine Homilies, Homily 4, Chapter 19).

'Clement' can't be acculturated to conditions in Greece, where rural school-masters were as likely to be Greeks as urban school-masters, but to the Roman country-side. But 'Clement,' of course, is supposed to be a Roman, so one cannot be sure if he is just staying in character.

Not in spite of, but rather because of, the disreputable character of this literature, it is the preferred source for some modern Bible scholars: "In fact, using the Pseudoclementine Recognitions for control, it is possible to make some sense out of these early and highly mythologized chapters of the Book of Acts." (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 76). This popular and influential author, who writes in the conspiracy theory genre, blazes new paths in showing how to make hash out of history and Bible interpretation by identifying every character with the same name. It is true there's an advance in parsimony to identifying two as one, but not to the point that all James have to be one, "Simultaneously, his double and namesake, the confusing 'James the brother of John,' as we saw, is conveniently eliminated from the narrative." (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 413). Convenient indeed; but Jacob was a very common name of the period, as the evidence of the ossuaries show, and so to keep in line with known statistics on name distribution of the period, there almost has to be more than one James mentioned in the text! He takes the Pseudoclementine literature as an authentic record of Ebionite belief. As with many in the modern 'Jesus' publishing industry, he relies in large part on wishful thinking: "From  this criticism and documents like the Pseudoclementines we can ascertain that not only did they revere James, but that they considered Jesus a mere man, naturally generated by Joseph and Mary and that they insisted on being circumcised, 'because Jesus was.'" (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 177). Of course, back in the real world, the authors of the Pseudoclementines believe that Jesus, the only-begotten, created the world: "But water was made at first by the Only-begotten; and the Almighty God is the head of the Only-begotten, by whom we come to the Father in such order as we have stated above." (Clementine Recognitions, Book 6, Chapter 8). There is no mere man who created the world; this author must re-edit even his own preferred source to have it come out to his liking.

The admissions contrary to interest made by the author are astonishing in scope: he provides gnosticism with an independent heritage of its own, stretching back to John the Baptist's movement; it is not an outgrowth of Christianity according to his history. Given these admissions, and the further admission that Simon holds the Bible high ground: 'Peter' is reduced to disparaging the false verses in scripture,— one must wonder if the whole project is a Trojan Horse written by a gnostic. On the one hand the Clementine library is a well-stocked source of information on Simon of Samaria, on the other hand, the information is not reliable.

This admission contrary to interest is striking because the mainstream Christian argument against heresy postulated that heresy is late, orthodoxy early and original:

"That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas. In this principle also we must henceforth find a presumption of equal force against all heresies whatsoever — that whatever is first is true, whereas that is spurious which is later in date." (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter 2).

Our author is an apologist writing a polemic against gnosticism. We do not normally expect such authors to exaggerate the length of time the error they wish to combat has been around; if anything they would be tempted to shave the facts the other way. But our author stoutly proclaims full-blown gnosticism existed in the days of the apostles. So the idea that this attribution, of gnosticism to Simon the Samaritan, is a later myth, runs counter to the normal tendency of orthodox polemics. And what, after all, is required to produce gnosticism? Only monotheism and polytheism, side by side, as was surely found in the Samaria of the day; it is a hybrid, a blend of the two, a conforming of the rigidly non-conformist Jewish monotheism to the reigning pagan idolatry of the day.

Certainly there is some tendency in the literature toward weaving myths. The pseudo-Clementine literature is not as bad as it gets. That would be the Acts of Peter, which features a talking dog. Apocryphal literature of this type is generally unreliable, because the authors of this material are not describing events which they themselves witnessed. In their imaginative improvisations they are prone to making chronological and geographical blunders. While the author of this apocryphal work plainly has no problem making stuff up, what is striking are his admissions contrary to interest. That Simon poached amongst the early Christians in Rome, and succeeded in winning a large number to his rival claims versus the Christ whom Paul preached, is conceded,

"And the brethren were not a little offended among themselves, seeing, moreover, that Paul was not at Rome, neither Timotheus nor Barnabas, for they had been sent into Macedonia by Paul, and that there was no man to comfort us, to speak nothing of them that had but just become catechumens. And as Simon exalted himself yet more by the works which he did, and many of them daily called Paul a sorcerer, and others a deceiver, of so great a multitude that had been stablished in the faith all fell away save Narcissus the presbyter and two women in the lodging of the Bithynians, and four that could no longer go out of their house, but were shut up (day and night): these gave themselves unto prayer (by day and night), beseeching the Lord that Paul might return quickly, or some other that should visit his servants, because the devil had made them fall by his wickedness." (Acts of Peter, Chapter IV).

Usually people seeking to combat heresy try to minimize the extent to which the heresy has penetrated the church. Simon, evidently, was a real problem, and a very early problem, for the neonatal Christian fellowship. Parasitizing the church was a characteristic strategy of gnosticism: "Without cause knockest thou at other men's doors, which are not thine but of Christ Jesus that keepeth them. For thou, ravening wolf, wouldest carry off the sheep that are not thine but of Christ Jesus, who keepeth them with all care and diligence." (Acts of Peter, Chapter VIII). Instead of stressing how pure the Roman church was in its early days, how spotless those great saints, how steadfast their faith, the authors of these Acts frankly admit a visiting heresiarch almost captured the whole thing, and would have made off with it had Peter not personally visited Rome. That is a stunning admission. It is admission made also by other authors who would be in a position to know if it were untrue. There is no reason to disbelieve it.


Live Food

The Philosopher Pythagoras and his most committed followers practiced vegetarianism, avoiding 'live' food. The best refutation of their claims comes from the Greek Anthology:

"You were not alone in keeping your hands off live things; we do so too; who touches live food, Pythagoras? but we eat what has been boiled and roasted and pickled, and there is no life in it then." (Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology, Chapter X, Poem XLIV, (Kindle Locations 2269-2271).).

Certainly this is so, as even 'Jesus' admits: "He will not eat it while it is alive, but only after he has killed it and it has become a carcass." (Gospel of Thomas 60). The people who produced this work seem to have been sold on Pythagoras' argument, though, because they say:

"The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. During the days when you ate what is dead, you made it come alive." (Gospel of Thomas 11).

When they say, "During the days when you ate what is dead," this implies they no longer eat what is dead: they've gone vegan! Was their acceptance of this practice also an acceptance of the logic behind it, namely transmigration of souls?

The practice of vegetarianism seems to have been common in these circles; it is also commended by Dositheus,

"At the head of their chorus doubtless stands Dositheus, a Cilician by race, who confirms their teaching in the course of eight whole books, and magnifies his case by the splendour of his language, saying again and again that marriage is an illegal act, and quite contrary to law. Here are his words, "Through union the world had its beginning ; through abstention from it, it would fain have its completion." He says that the tasting of wine and the partaking of flesh is disgusting and loathsome altogether, thus  indeed ruthlessly lifting up a cruel branding-iron for those that delight in him. By such reasoning all creation is accursed according to him, all life is under suspicion and hurtful to everybody." (The Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes, Book III, Chapter XLIII).

Dog in the Manger

The Gospel of Thomas includes a nice little riff from Aesop's Fables, the story of the Dog in the Manger:


Infinite Loss

The guiding idea of gnosticism is that we are people who have lost our birth-right. Like deposed European royalty wandering the earth, our status has declined. Our birth was in the skies; we have fallen from our estate. The Gospel of Thomas has an 'alien' sound to Christian ears, because the author's world-view decidedly tends toward gnosticism. What is the problem with humanity? Is it that we are sinners, estranged from God because of our sin, and in need of a blood covering to shield us from God's wrath? Why, not, it is an information problem; we have 'forgotten' something that we used to know, no doubt in our pre-existence before our earthly sojourn. We need to remember this lost information; we have got to get ourselves back to the garden:

"Jesus said, 'I took my stand in the midst of the world, and in flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and I did not find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see, for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to depart from the world empty. But meanwhile they are drunk. When they shake off their wine, then they will change their ways.'" (Gospel of Thomas 28, p.310, The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller, editor).

Ignorance or lack of mindfulness is the problem, not sin. This is not the Bible perspective. From 'Thomas's' perspective, when we seek the Kingdom of Heaven, we are not looking for something we have never yet possessed; rather, we seek to regain what we once had, that we have lost through lack of mindfulness:

"Jesus said, 'The [Father's] imperial rule is like a woman who was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking along [a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her [along] the road. She didn't know it; she hadn't noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered that it was empty." (Gospel of Thomas 97)

This is a parable of the kingdom. The woman had it but then she lost it; how? Through lack of mindfulness, failing to pay attention. When did this mental lapse occur? No doubt at the time of her reincarnation, after she had drunk the waters of forgetfulness,— the waters of Lethe; or so say the authorities:

Plato Home

Plato gives a beautiful literary treatment to this theme, of remembrance and forgetfulness. From whence did these travellers come? From the realms of light (you had to ask?):

"Jesus said, 'If they say to you, "Where have you come from?' say to them, "We have come from the light, from the place where the light came into being by itself, established [itself], and appeared in their image.'" (Gospel of Thomas 50).

While I can't speak for you, dear reader, certainly I have clean forgotten my prior lives, though Shirley MacLaine has not! So the waters of forgetfulness successfully perform their assigned job, for most of us at any rate. Reincarnation, or transmigration of souls, is a bedrock belief of the East. The Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, are built upon this foundation. Though it was not the normal or indigenous Greek belief, it made the voyage to Europe down various passage-ways, and teachers such as Pythagoras domesticated it for a Graeco-Roman audience. We are born in the skies, descend to this vale of tears, but are equipped to re-ascend once we understand our dilemma: we are dislocated. Our light-travellers are clutching in their hands a round-trip ticket: "Jesus said, 'Congratulations to those who are alone and chosen, for you will find the (Father's) domain. For you have come from it, and you will return there again.'" (Gospel of Thomas 49, The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller, editor, p. 313).

But not only does the theory of reincarnation lack any intrinsic probability, it also is not compatible with the Bible, which teaches that we die once: "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:. . ." (Hebrews 9:27). The Psalmist praises God for a new beginning:

"My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them." (Psalm 139:15-16).

The psalmist does not say, 'when I was constructed in my mother's womb, a new chapter commenced in the long, long story of my life,' but rather, 'the days were written, when as yet there were none of them.' The story began at that point, which is not an installment or a chapter but the beginning. The paradigm of reincarnation is the normal gnostic belief. The Kabbalah, a medieval revival of gnosticism, incorporates this belief, which is also common in 'New Age' thinking. There is no such Biblical belief, though it is conceivable that remarks concerning Jesus' eternal deity and pre-existence, if erroneously generalized to include all and sundry, might lead in that direction. Presumably Simon, or whoever authored this material, found these ideas in Plato or other pagan sources, liked them, and naturalized them. Although reportedly Simon rejected the resurrection in the flesh, he evidently accepts this alternative pagan paradigm.

The Platonic severance between flesh and spirit seems also present, for instance, "They are like little children living in a field that is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, 'Give us back our field.' They take off their clothes in front of them in order to give it back to them, and they return their field to them." (Gospel of Thomas 21). Presumably the 'clothes' are the flesh, assumed but not our true self, and the 'owners' are, not God, but whatever powers are represented as being in possession of this earthly field. These ideas, again, are not new, but neither are they Biblical. The 'Gospel of Thomas' is a syncretistic enterprise. The ingredients that go into the pot are not new or unfamiliar; they only sound oddly coming from 'Jesus's' lips, which is not, in fact, likely to be where they came from. There is not an abundance of evidence that the historic Jesus was a Platonist. 'Thomas' evidently feels free to invent, which is no doubt why he is the 'Jesus Seminar's' favorite 'gospel' author.

There are bits and pieces left of a polemic against resurrection in the flesh: "Jesus said, 'Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human." (Gospel of Thomas 7). Were the group clustered around the Gospel of Thomas believes in reincarnation, not resurrection?:


Lift the Stone

The Gospel of Thomas testifies unambiguously to Jesus' deity:

"Jesus said, 'I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.'" (Gospel of Thomas, 77).

This phrase might strike some readers' ears as pantheistic, comparable to the pagan saying, "Why for God should we seek further? What ere moves, what ere is seen is Jove." (Lucan, Pharsalia, Book IX, Thomas May translation, lines 660-685). That God is everything and everything is God is not normative Christian theology. However, the speaker of Thomas 77 does not say 'I am the stone,' but that He is there; this verse ascribes ubiquity or omnipresence to the speaker. This is a divine characteristic, and solely a divine characteristic, according to the soundest and most strict Biblical theology:

"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7-10).

There is no mere man who can say, 'I am everywhere, even to the smallest interstices of matter.' Realizing that the Gospel of Thomas places a clear and unambiguous  claim to deity on Jesus' own lips, and realizing that the 'Jesus Seminar' consider the Gospel of Thomas the earliest gospel, the naive reader might be pardoned for surmising they must believe He claimed to be God, inasmuch as there are many reports that He did, and there is, by their way of reckoning, no earlier document which either says that He did not make this claim or is compatible with the view that He did not. This would be naive indeed; of course the participants in the 'Jesus Seminar' do not admit that Jesus claimed to be God, even though their preferred source so reports.

The literature reports that Simon the Samaritan was also a god-claimant, a copy-cat of Jesus: "And the people making acclamations to him, as to a God, I stretched out my hands to heaven, with my mind, and besought God through the Lord Jesus to throw down this pestilent fellow, and to destroy the power of those demons that made use of the same for the seduction and perdition of men, to dash him against the ground, and bruise him, but not to kill him." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 2, Chapter IX, p. 901). Incidentally, while these flying contests sound silly, this accomplishment was by no means beyond the abilities of Roman stage-craft. A flying bull was not beyond the abilities of Roman stage-craft: "A bull, borne aloft  from the Arena's midst mounts to the skies; this was no work of art, but one of piety." (Martial, XVI, On the Spectacles, Complete Works of Martial, Kindle location 121). Jesus is not the only god-claimant, rather the only who is both sane and honest:

Simon, like his brutal contemporary Caligula, and the gentler Apollonius of Tyana, did claim to be God:

"Now after a few days there was a great commotion in the midst of the church, for some said that they had seen wonderful works done by a certain man whose name was Simon, and that he was at Aricia, and they added further that he said he was a great power of God and without God he did nothing. Is not this the Christ. . . Perchance also he will now enter into Rome; for yesterday they besought him with great acclamations, saying unto him: Thou art God in Italy, thou art the savior of the Romans: haste quickly unto Rome." (Vercelli Acts of Peter, Chapter IV).

When we hear that in the twentieth century Wallace D. Fard and Father Divine claimed to be God, we do not deny that these men existed. Given that their lives are well attested by a variety of sources, denial is a silly reaction. There is nothing supernatural in saying, 'Wallace D. Fard claimed to be God.' Simon definitely made the claim: "Then Simon, having gone in to Nero, said: Hear, O good emperor: I am the son of God come down from heaven." (Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, ECF 0_08, p. 1007). The story is told consistently in a variety of sources that Simon's movement hijacked the infant church of Rome, to such an extent that Peter himself had to go there to contain and clean up the damage. Christians think of the incarnation as a one-time thing, not a continuing office to be renewed as each office-holder is removed by death-and-resurrection. Seeing the sheep left forlorn and unattended, their Master having departed and gone back home to the skies, Simon stepped forward to be the God near at hand. For his troubles he was requited with the harshest curses any of the Lord's followers knew; you would think it was like Father Jehovia and Father Divine going after each other. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and although in the disputes these authors stage Simon can come across as a critic of Jesus, he was originally an imitator, piggy-backing off the success of the Christian movement: "Nero said: Who is Christ? Peter said: He is what this Simon the magian affirms himself to be: but this is a most wicked man, and his works are of the devil." (Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, ECF 0_08, p. 1008). What Jesus claimed, he claimed. Perhaps part of the reason they have to deny his existence is that their 'Jesus' never claimed to be God, so He cannot have had a copy-cat who so claimed. Yet Simon did so claim.

The copy-cat reaction is a natural and perhaps inevitable one. How many imitators has the unlettered Arabian prophet found, although his followers claim him as the seal of the prophets, i.e., the last one? New sects are continually forming out of Islam, like the Ahmadis, coalescing around a new prophet who looks at Mohammed and thinks, 'I could do that.' Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, had a first century copy-cat, too. His movement did not deny Jesus' heavenly origin, but only chimed in, 'Me too.' In 'Thomas,' are we holding in our hands a document from this clone sect?


The Vineyard

The 'Jesus Seminar' enterprise looks distinctly agenda-driven to outsiders, yet they have a curiously myopic way of following their own agenda. In adopting 'Thomas' as an early and authentic 'gospel,' they are giving away the store. There is nothing that fills them with more horror than the notion that Jesus is the Son of God: "The road from Jesus to the Christian religion that finally emerged in the fourth century, with its myth of Jesus as the son of God solidly in place, is a very long and twisty path." (Marcus L. Borg, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 45). "[L]ong and twisty"? It's right there in their own preferred texts! As seen, 'Thomas' clearly testifies to Jesus' deity; he also testifies to the Sonship:

  • "He said, A [...] person owned a vineyard and rented it to some farmers, so they could work it and he could collect its crop from them. He sent his slave so the farmers would give him the vineyard's crop. They grabbed him, beat him, and almost killed him, and the slave returned and told his master. His master said, 'Perhaps he didn't know them.' He sent another slave, and the farmers beat that one as well. Then the master sent his son and said, 'Perhaps they'll show my son some respect.' Because the farmers knew that he was the heir to the vineyard, they grabbed him and killed him. Anyone here with two ears had better listen!"
  • (Gospel of Thomas, 65).

Both of these are New Testament themes which they want to claim are late and inauthentic, yet here they are, in their preferred 'gospel.' These ideas have consequences:

"Our Lord's Sonship is not a result of the incarnation. The relationships of Father and Son are intrinsic to the Godhead, and are the basis of revelation. . . .It is noteworthy that the first mention of love in Scripture is found in the words to Abraham in Genesis 22: 'Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest.' Here is the signpost to the study of love in the Word, the love of a father for his only begotten son. Later, in the Song of the Beloved in Isaiah 5, we find that the Lord of Hosts speaks of One whom He calls His well beloved, and to whom He attributes the bringing of Israel into their land. In the light of the parable of the vineyard—'having yet therefore one son, his well beloved ' (Mk. 12:6)—the meaning is clear. Before the incarnation, our Lord was the well--beloved of God. This was His joy." (The Glories of Our Lord, H. C. Hewlett, p. 13).

If this project, the 'Gospel' of Thomas, originated with Simon of Samaria or within his circle, then it is not a step on any evolutionary process leading toward the Christian gospels, nor is it necessarily built upon them; it is on its own lonesome siding off the main line. Simon's religion petered out; his demise, coupled with his denial of any resurrection, debunked his claim to be the 'Standing One,' and his successor's identical claim met the same fate. Simon was a rival to the church, not a son. Yet, while his organization ended up defunct, his spiritual progeny were numerous; the 'Jesus' industry tries to sell them to us as Christians, when there is no reason to categorize them as such.

What does Simon's title of the 'Standing One' actually mean?: "By nation he is a Samaritan, from a village of the Gettones; by profession a magician yet exceedingly well trained in the Greek literature; desirous of glory, and boasting above all the human race, so that he wishes himself to be believed to be an exalted power, which is above God the Creator, and to be thought to be the Christ, and to be called the Standing One." (Recognitions of Clement, Book 2, Chapter 7). What does it mean? On the one hand it is a title of God: "But Abraham the wise, being one who stands, draws near to God the standing One; for it says 'he was standing before the Lord and he drew near and said' (Gen. xviii. 2f.)." (Philo Judaeus, The Posterity and Exile of Cain, Chapter IX, p. 343 Loeb edition).

Insofar as the apocryphal Acts can be believed, Simon used this title of himself: "Whereas, then, ye have fallen, I am He that standeth, and I shall go up to my Father and say unto him: Me also, even thy son that standeth, have they desired to pull down; but I consented not unto them, and am returned back unto myself." (Acts of Peter, from the Greek, Chapter XXXII). To this day we encounter people who, reading the gospels, come away with the message that the words Jesus speaks about who He is, are general truths applicable to themselves just as much as to Him. It should not be so surprising that tendency existed early on.

But in what connection does the title 'Standing One' occur? Does it just mean 'Pillar,' as with James? What brought it up? Possibly it refers back to John the Baptist, who identified His successor as 'standing' amongst the people: "John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose." (John 1:26-27).

Some of the figures associated with Simon's movement claim a heritage in John's movement, though rejecting the New Testament progression from John to the Christian gospel. Some of these groups seem to have understood this title to mean that, if you claim to be the Standing One, you cannot die; so, when they died, they lost the crown, becoming an embarrassment like Father Divine's first wife Peninnah, who was also not supposed to die but did. However the title is a profound one, carrying resonance deep within contemporary theology, both pagan and Jewish. Among other things, in Neoplatonic lingo, it means God the Father: "Evidently the First God is the Standing One, while, on the contrary, the Second is in motion." (Numenius of Apamea, Works of Numenius, Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, p. 32).


The Son of Man

Though the translators do all in their power to obscure it, 'Thomas' validates the title 'Son of Man' applied to Jesus by the apostolic gospels:

"Jesus said, '[Foxes have] their dens and birds have their nests, but human beings have no place to lie down and rest." (Gospel of Thomas 86).
"Note: 'human beings: The Coptic here reads literally 'son of man.' But most scholars seem to agree that it is not intended here as a title for Jesus, but rather the Semitic idiom meaning simply 'human being.'" (The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller, editor, pp. 317-318)

What does the title 'Son of Man' mean?

Daniel's Vision I the Son of Man
Common Sense Rabbi Akiba
The Other Beloved Son
Psalm 80 Psalm 8

As noted, there is testimony that Simon and his followers compiled their own 'gospel:'

"For we know that Simon and Cleobius, and their followers, have compiled poisonous books under the name of Christ and of His disciples, and do carry them about in order to deceive you who love Christ, and us His servants. And among the ancients also some have written apocryphal books of Moses, and Enoch, and Adam, and Isaiah, and David, and Elijah, and of the three patriarchs, pernicious and repugnant to the truth." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 3, Chapter XVI, ECF 0.07, p. 908).

This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, because the so-called Apostolic Constitutions itself is apocryphal, pretending to apostolic authorship which is not very likely. It may be that 'The Gospel of Thomas' hands down to us the voice of a long-departed heresiarch still moaning from the grave. This strange work may also offer inadvertent testimony to the antiquity of several true things, falsely claimed as late, such as the Sonship.

It is truly remarkable what the boosters of 'Thomas' are prepared to admit. They are giving away the store! The 'Jesus' of the 'Gospel of Thomas' unquestionably claims to be God; can anyone really deny it? If 'Thomas' is a first century work, as it does seem to be, then this should be the end of all talk about 'when did Jesus become God,' date supplied by a fanciful tale blaming Constantine. The 'Gospel of Thomas' does not come out of the circle of the apostles, whom it disdains; this makes it independent testimony, in no way dependent upon the Christian church. The parable of the vineyard gives us a Jesus who is the Son of God, and 'The Gospel of Thomas' gives us a Jesus who is God. People should be willing to receive a gift when it is offered to them!


Burgess Shale

The Victorian era saw Charles Darwin's progressive, optimistic, and irredeemably racist theory of gradualistic evolution. This mind-set substituted an adverb, 'gradually,' for the sought-for explanation of origins. Darwin realized that the fossil record did not display gradualism, but attributed this lack to the imperfection of the fossilized annals, and predicted that as ignorance gave way to knowledge, these gaps,— the sudden explosions and mass extinctions,— would disappear, replaced by observably slow, minute changes. This never happened. One might think, since the theory failed of the only prediction it ever made, it would be abandoned, but it had become something like a religious talisman, and they could not let go of it. So instead evolutionists 'modified' the theory by positing punctuated equilibrium: the little bursts of actual evolution are so rare and intermittent that, quite naturally, they are and will ever be absent from the fossil remains. The premise of gradualism has been dropped; when people talk about big events like the extinction of the dinosaurs, they revert to the earlier 'catastrophism.'

When the people doing secular Bible study in the nineteenth century imported Darwinian evolution into their tool-box, and posited that religious texts develop gradually, by accretion,— by small changes over a lengthy period of time,— they were assuming that something happens which no one had ever seen happen. However, it was also, or so they thought, the best 'scientific' explanation of origins, employed even in 'real' science. Their descendants continue mindlessly doing it the same way their predecessors did, even though gradualism is not the way anybody does science nowadays. This guiding principle is no longer an import from evolutionary biology, because they don't do biology that way anymore. But neither is it any real phenomenon anyone has ever observed at work in the field of religion.

When we look at those new religions which have burst on to the scene in modern times, nothing like gradualism is observable. If the first, charismatic generation of founders, the generation of Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Herbert Armstrong, Elijah Muhammad,— did not propound a doctrinal innovation, then it is unlikely to have been contributed by the pusillanimous second or third care-taker generations, who are likelier to back-track than to innovate. They are too busy climbing down off of the limb the bold, fearless founders stuck them out on to come up with new ideas. For instance, Elijah Muhammad's religion was something new in the world, utterly without precedent. But when his son took over the Nation of Islam, he made a bee-line for the Islamic mainstream. He dropped, like hot rocks, the odd concepts that Elijah Muhammad had developed, for instance that Wallace D. Fard was God, or that an evil scientist invented the white race. A tendency toward development by accretion is not observable in the real world.

When taxonomists first looked at the strange creatures of the Burgess Shale, they fit them neatly into an evolutionary tree, just as they had been taught to do. Of course considerable force in applying the shoe-horn was required. Some people would like to think the Gospel of Thomas fits onto some evolutionary pathway leading to the gospels. There are more barren branches, however, on the modern, pruned-down evolutionary tree than had ever been dreamed of by Charles Darwin: "Life is a copiously branching bush, continually pruned by the grim reaper of extinction, not a ladder of predictable progress." (Wonderful Life, Stephen Jay Gould, p. 35). From the standpoint of orthodoxy, this Gospel of Thomas is a pruned branch, not a precursor; though Simon achieved great success in his life-time, within a few centuries there were no more Simonians. While orthodoxy cannot look upon this work as part of its patrimony, the alien religion of gnosticism might well feel a certain kinship. From its stumbling start with Simon the magician, it took off for the skies, and even today there is an active booster club composed by people like Elaine Pagels who cannot stop singing its praises, mostly because Christians do not like it.

Be Passersby

Verse 42 of the Gospel of Thomas reads,

"Jesus said, 'Be passersby.' "

A familiar concept, though not to Christians: "...would he not approve the wisdom of the son of Neocles who bids us 'Live in obscurity'?" (Julian the Apostate, Letter to Themistius, p. 207, Loeb edition). The son of Neocles is Epicurus the hedonist philosopher.

The people who think Jesus actually said, 'Be passersby,' include many Muslims, heirs to the Sufis: “Through the “Muslim Gospel,” two sayings at least from the Gospel of Thomas continued to circulate widely in the Muslim world, including “Become passers by” and the call for the believer to bring forth what is inside him. Perhaps accurately, Muslims recalled that Jesus had taught his followers that 'the world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not build upon it.'” (Jenkins, John Philip (2008-10-16). The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died (p. 201). HarperCollins.)


Trinitarian Formula

Christians are familiar with invocations of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Apparently this started rather early, if indeed 'Thomas' is early:

"Jesus said, 'Whoever blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit will not be forgiven, either on earth or in heaven.'" (Gospel of Thomas 44, p. 312, The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller, Editor).

John Dominic Crossan dislikes the "Trinitarian" character of this formulation: "And Gospel of Thomas 44 compounded and consummated the the entire muddle by enlarging it into a Trinitarian formula of forgivable sins against Father and Son but not against the Holy Spirit." (John Dominic Crossan, p. 258, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant).


Excluded Middle

Thomas considers two possibilities: that the spirit came into being for the sake of the flesh, or that the flesh came into being for the sake of the spirit:

"Jesus said, 'If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels. Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty.'" (Gospel of Thomas, 29).

One can agree with the author that it strains credulity past the breaking point to think that spirit came into being to serve the flesh; why should the greater thing be for the sake of the lesser? And flesh, even without any opening to the divine, seems able to hold its own. Think of a large animal, a bear perhaps, ambling through the woods pursuing his ursine projects. What does he lack, for not having a telephone in his bosom hooked up to the empyrean? Spirit did not come into being to service the flesh, flesh can get along without it.

But why does our author marvel at the thought that flesh came into existence to serve the spirit? If this world is as much made to be our home as our literal abode with its friendly 'Welcome' mat out front, would that really be so inconceivable? Yet he finds it so, because of this world's "poverty." What third alternative remains? He is removing the created world from the realm of 'intelligent design;' if it is not something made for a purpose, and made good, then what could it be? How did it come to be here? Perhaps as the result of a cosmic catastrophe, like the Kabbalists' breaking of the vessels, or perhaps a random effusion of bodily fluids from errant Sophia. He does not yet have an alternative creation myth, but he's working on one.


Do It Yourself

A theme that's very popular with false teachers nowadays, like John Dominic Crossan and John Shelby Spong, is that you're plenty good enough to be your own god. Don't sell yourself short! 'Thomas' is travelling down that broad and well-travelled road as well. A story told by the Lord, as found in the canonical gospels, describes the eye as the lamp of the body:

  • “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
  • (Matthew 6:22-23)

  • “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”
  • ( Luke 11:34-36).

The skin is a tough and flexible layer which delimits the inside of the body from the outside, protecting us from dirt and harmful microbes. For the most part it is opaque, or at most translucent; our body is dark inside, unless it should happen to be cut open by the surgeon's knife under the glare of the bright operating room lights. One very notable exception is the transparent covering of the eye, the cornea, which allows light from the outside world to stream into us, bringing its wealth of information about where things are out there, freely available for decoding once focused upon the retina. That this transparent covering of the eye was something like a window was noticed by others in antiquity; the Romans called a room without a window a 'blind' room: ". . .but if it has no window, it is called caecum 'blind,' as a man is called caecus and a woman caeca, because not all sleeping-rooms have the light which they ought to have." (Varro, On the Latin Language, Book IX, Chapter 58). Conditions which make the cornea or the transparent lens cloudy or occluded, like cataracts, can cause blindness. Jesus is not so concerned with the physical light, but with the spiritual light that floods in through the soul's eye, of which a blind man can experience the richness as well as a sighted one. When the inner window pointing skyward is fouled with grime and dirt, we catch only a few of the rays from the Light of the World allowed by the optics of the situation. We must grab the Windex of repentance and get to work cleaning our inner skylight. Notice please that in the Lord's telling, the light comes from the outside. Without this external light source, all is in darkness.

This will not do for 'Thomas,' who must grant us auto-luminescence: "There is light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world. If it does not shine, it is dark." (Gospel of Thomas, Chapter 24).

So if you are content serving a god who is capable of misplacing the car keys, follow 'Thomas' down his blind alley. Who needs all that blinding divine light anyway, the ambient half-light is bright enough for the auto-luminescent.


Nikolai Ge, The Last Supper

The Gospel of Judas

The National Geographic Society has released, with great fanfare, the gnostic 'Gospel of Judas.' There is a sucker born every minute, it is said; perhaps they imagine there is someone out there so naive as to believe this text records an actual conversation between Jesus and Judas. Along with the high praise the gnostic gospels receive in Dan Brown's novel 'The Da Vinci Code,' long ensconced on the best-seller list, it looks like boom times for gnosticism. But this once popular alternative spirituality has been misunderstood. (Critics may object, the problem with this movement is that it cannot be understood!) But whatever the gnostic writers were getting at, it wasn't Dan Brown's ideal of Jesus as a moral philosopher: “'My dear,' Teabing declared, until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet...a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.'” (The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, Chapter 55).

The various streams of gnosticism did not in any way controvert Jesus' deity, but quite a bit of squeezing and distorting was necessary in order to fit Him into their generally polytheistic theological paradigm. Many of them felt they had to deny His true humanity as taught in the orthodox tradition. From time to time, amidst the preposterous fictions of the apocryphal literature, one stumbles upon a nugget which suggests what the terms of this long-ago debate actually were: "And all the multitude seeing it cried: One is the God, one is the God of Peter." (Acts of Peter, Chapter XXVI). Peter was a monotheist, Simon was not:

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The 'Gospel of Judas' is a fairly mediocre representative of this ancient fictional genre, but somebody seems to think there's gold in them thar hills:

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Saved by Nature

History has presented a strange concatenation of events: Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who presented himself as a Messiah superior to Jesus on grounds that he was married, passed away and left us just as Karen King was revealing the 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife,' a fragment in Coptic which seems to say something about somebody's wife, though just exactly what is unclear. Its authenticity has been called into question. The Reverend Moon's followers drifted away as his 'perfect' family began to look less perfect and more dysfunctional, but perhaps Karen King's discovery will re-energize the 'Da Vinci Code' crowd: